Bros is the first mainstream Hollywood romcom to feature a gay couple in the leading roles. Even seeing it written down strikes an off note. An urge to contradict bubbles to the surface. But what about…? And yet, it’s true. A fumble through the classics may find a dozen gay best friends, each one more cliched than the last, but the finale is always the same. They all lived heterosexually ever after. Not so here. While the weight of expectation and historical significance do at times bear a heavy burden on Bros, it’s a winning starting shot for a much queerer future of funny at the multiplex.
The film is the brainchild of Billy ‘on the street’ Eichner. It’s clearly a labour of love and passion project. One in which the saccharine falls fabulously fowl of the sardonic. Eichner co-writes with Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Nicholas Stoller and shares a production credit with none other than Judd Apatow. There’s irony with the pedigree. True, it’s an apt pairing that links Bros to the man behind The 40 Year Old Virgin but an early take down of The Hangover here for its use of derogatory homophobia as comedy is close to the bone for the director of Knocked Up. Which is not to say Bros invites comparison to its straight, white predecessors. If anything, the film balks at the notion.
Before the camera, Eichner plays podcaster Bobby Lieber. He’s an angsty rush of gay existentialism, with a propensity for intense word vomit. Internalised self-doubt belies Bobby’s outward confidence, even as self-confessed narcissism propels him to the centre of every available stage. Romance and companionship are for straights and dummies. In the face of two loved up friends of his finding that their brief flirtation with a third party has become something more long term, Bobby snarks: ‘I don’t want to be in a throuple, I don’t even want to be in a couple’. Friends satisfy Bobby’s need for companioship, while his share of romance is ultimately limited to cold, no-strings-attached Grindr hookups.
Even when Bobby meets cute, it’s with no concern for a future beyond the bedroom. Not least because the twinkly eyed Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) is exactly the sort of steroid fuelled gym bunny that sends his eyes rolling. That and because – as the film has it – love is not – as virtue signaling execs have it – love. Between gay men, love is a hell of a lot more horny. Except, perhaps there’s more to ‘hot but boring’ Aaron than Bobby expects. Isn’t there always? Bros may revel in wry skewering when it comes to mention of romcoms past but it’s not so far detached from the formula that it cannot itself indulge in the odd dabble with the formulaic.
While the opening third of Bros does feel a little cloyingly worthy and self-consciously self aware, when Eichner’s balls start rolling, the pay offs pay off. There are early quips that will later erupt into bonafide belly laughs. Stoller nails Eichner’s propensity for contrast vis some razor sharp cutting and a hunger to upset the expected. Perhaps the film’s funniest sequence, a segue from a very romcom friendly call over the shoulder to a very romcom unfriendly sex gag is a perfect example of this. Even if Eichner does sometimes overplay his hand with an excess of force, when the joke lands, it lands.
Around the central lovers, a pleasingly diverse cast of supporting characters round out the wider hole. Glee breakout Dot Marie-Jones, Miss Lawrence and Eve Lindley and three in the particularly effective ensemble who make up the board around whom Bobby is tasked to curate the world’s first museum of American LGBTQ+ history. It’s in their exchanges that the film’s significance truly shines. A self-awareness in shared ribaldry. ‘Remember straight people?’ quips Lindley in one such scene. ‘Yeah, they had a good run’ comes a sly finisher from Marie-Jones. Hoorah for that.